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CHAPTER ONE

Thando sat at his desk staring through the window. He was thoroughly bored. Miss Flannagan was nice enough, he supposed, and she was really very pretty. If only she would just find something a little more interesting to talk about, he thought.

 

Maths he could just about handle, and English, although he found it very complicated and he thought the spelling was stupid. Yet he knew that he had to learn these two subjects. The rest of his schooling was a mystery to him. Why he, in South Africa, had to know about French Revolutions when he knew how slim the possibility was of ever visiting Paris and seeing for himself all these famous sites, he would never know.

 

Miss Flannagan was his English teacher. Thando thought he might be a little in love with her. With her long, wavy hair and blue blue eyes, Miss Flannagan was by far the most beautiful person he had ever seen.

 

Right now, towards the end of the lesson, she was reading to them from one of her favourite storybooks. She had a beautiful voice and he loved listening to the slight Irish lilt in her accent. But what a lot of nonsense she was reading!

 

He wondered whether his teacher actually believed in fairies, the way she harped on about the subject. She seemed to have an unnecessary amount of knowledge of the so-called “little folk” and at least ninety percent of the fiction they heard in class centred around tales of fairies, elves, goblins, leprechauns and even trolls, although he doubted that trolls fell under the category of fairies. When he complained to his parents about his teacher’s choice of leisure literature, they laughed and told him that it was no doubt due to her Irish heritage.

 

Even if fairies did exist, he thought, why should they be restricted to Ireland? Who said there weren’t any fairies in Africa?

 

As if in reply to his unspoken question, a small, crumpled piece of paper suddenly landed softly and accurately on his desk. As unobtrusively as possible, Thando unfolded the paper. The familiar handwriting immediately informed him that the writer of the letter was the girl sitting immediately behind him. Thando had often thought that if he wasn’t in love with Miss Flannagan, he was definitely in love with Lindiwe. She was his neighbour and the best friend any person could ever wish for.

 

Even though she was a girl, Lindiwe could run, climb, cycle, swim and do anything else that a boy could do, even winning over most of the boys that they knew and more often than not, even winning over Thando himself. She could also fight just as well as any boy, as Thando had long since discovered to his own chagrin.

 

Their friends and family often teased them about their close friendship – a few of the boys had even gone so far as to infer that Thando was a sissy to be playing with girls, but together Thando and Lindiwe made a formidable team and any such suggestions were very quickly retracted. On the whole, they were now left alone to enjoy their friendship. Sometimes Thando felt slightly guilty for thinking that Miss Flannagan was the most beautiful person he knew. Lindiwe was most definitely also very pretty. With her shining black eyes and quick smile, she was by far the prettiest girl in the school – indeed in the entire village.

 

Thando felt honoured that Lindiwe had chosen him to be her best friend. He guessed that living right next door to her had been the initial starting point, but he had no idea why she continued to be his friend, especially in view of the fact that she was so much more clever than he was. He suspected that she sometimes thought he was stupid, but when he questioned her, she would merely smile and tell him that all boys were slightly backward. That certainly made him feel better! Still, it was good to have her helping him with his homework when he didn’t understand and also when he was pretending to be even slower than he actually was, and in her impatience to go play, she would grab his books from him and do the work herself.

 

Of course, he couldn’t use that ploy too often. Lindiwe was far from stupid and would soon see through his little charade.

 

Now, as Thando read the crumpled note in his hand, he smiled. What was she up to now? The paper merely read “Would you like to see an African fairy?” He wondered, as he had often done before, whether Lindiwe could read his thoughts.

 

He turned around and smiled at her. She grinned back and he nodded. Soon another missile landed on his desk. “Look at the board above Miss Flannagan’s head,” he read.

 

Thando looked up. At first he saw nothing. Then suddenly a little light appeared. The light began dancing above his teacher’s head. Thando was spellbound. Just like the fairies in Miss Flannagan’s oft-repeated tales, the light danced, now becoming braver as it began to make elaborate loops and dives, its movements becoming bolder by the minute.

 

“Lindiwe!” The spell was broken by his teacher’s shrill exclamation. At once the fairy disappeared. Disappointed, Thando turned in his seat to look at a rather shame-faced Lindiwe.

 

“What do you have there, girl?” Miss Flannagan demanded angrily.

 

Puzzled, Thando wondered why his teacher was so angry. What had Lindiwe done?

In his fascination with the fairy, Thando had not noticed his friend doing anything.

 

“Bring it here!” Miss Flannagan demanded. Reluctantly, Lindiwe left the sanctuary of her desk and slowly walked up the aisle towards the teacher’s desk.

 

Lindiwe reached into the pocket of her school pinafore and removed a small object, which she placed onto Miss Flannagan’s desk.

 

Miss Flannagan picked up the object with the very tips of her fingers, looking at it in

distaste and holding it as though it was contaminated.

“Just what do you think you were doing with this mirror, child?” she asked. Thando was asking himself the same thing.

 

“I was playing, Miss Flannagan,” replied Lindiwe.

 

“So I gathered,” Miss Flannagan remarked coldly. “And would you like to elaborate on that, young lady?”

 

“I beg your pardon, Miss?” Lindiwe had obviously decided to plead ignorance.

 

“I would like you to tell us exactly what you were playing at,” Miss Flannagan explained with over- exaggerated patience.

 

Lindiwe looked across at Thando, an unspoken apology in her eyes.

 

“I was reflecting the mirror onto the wall above your head,” she said.

 

“Really?” queried the teacher “and why on earth would you be doing such a thing, young lady?” She asked. “Do you not think that writing notes to Thando while I was reading was not bad mannered enough? Why did you still find it necessary to further distract my class by playing with mirrors?”

 

Thando sat up guiltily. How did she know? He could have sworn she had been immersed in her book when he had received the notes. And what on earth was Lindiwe talking about?

 

Lindiwe looked once again at her friend before replying.

 

“I was pretending that the reflection was a dancing fairy,” she said.

 

“A dancing fairy,” repeated the teacher. “And did you for one minute believe that anyone in this room would be stupid enough to believe that your mirror was a dancing fairy?”

 

At this, Lindiwe succumbed to the fit of giggles, which had been threatening to erupt ever since she had first thought of the idea.

 

The rest of the class looked on in horror. What was wrong with Lindiwe? How could she start laughing when the teacher was reprimanding her? Had she lost her mind? Yet to their surprise, they saw Miss Flannagan’s mouth twitch as she struggled to suppress her own laughter.

 

“Answer me girl!” Miss Flannagan tried to sound angry, but, knowing her as they did, the children were not fooled.

 

“Yes, Miss Flannagan, someone did believe that it was a fairy,” Lindiwe gasped between giggles.

 

Smiling openly now, Miss Flannagan enquired “And would you like to inform us of the name of this imbecile?”

 

“Please, Miss Flannagan, I’d rather not,” Lindiwe’s giggles had rapidly subsided as she realised that she was being forced to publicly make a fool of her dearest friend.

 

“Oh, but I insist,” the teacher said, all traces of amusement having vanished now from her expression.

 

Thando cringed. At last he realised that he had been made an utter fool of, and the whole class was about to know it. He watched, mortified, as his best friend softly and almost indiscernibly muttered his name. But the teacher was going to be merciless.

 

“Speak up, girl!” she said sternly.

 

“Thando, Miss Flannagan. It was Thando who believed me.” Lindiwe obviously no longer found the situation at all amusing. The rest of the class, however, found it hilarious. For a few moments the teacher allowed their uproarious laughter to go unabated.

 

Then she rapped the desktop repeatedly with her ruler. The class fell silent.

 

“Thando and Lindiwe,” Miss Flannagan pronounced their names slowly and clearly.

“I have lost count of the number of times that the two of you have been reprimanded for fooling around in my classroom.” The two children hung their heads in shame. “However,” the teacher continued, “I do believe that today’s fiasco will encourage you to behave better in the future.” The two culprits dumbly nodded.

 

“Good.” Miss Flannagan smiled and the matter was dismissed. Lindiwe returned to her desk, passing Thando on the way. She glanced at him beseechingly, but he was studiously ignoring her.

 

They spent the rest of the period pretending to concentrate, but instead struggling with their emotions. Lindiwe was sorry that she had played the thoughtless trick on Thando, and Thando, for his part, was furious. Now he knew why the other boys never bothered playing with girls. They were dumb, dumb, dumb!

 

Eventually, the bell rang and the children were released. Thando rushed out of the classroom, wanting to get away from Lindiwe. Lindiwe followed him listlessly. She, too, had no particular desire to walk home with him, but they did live next door to one another and there were no shortcuts home in their little village. Just the few long, dusty roads.

 

Walking home, Thando was fuming. He no longer felt remotely in love with either of the women of his former devotions. However, to be fair, he thought, Miss Flannagan was not really to blame. She had actually handled the whole situation pretty fairly.

 

But Lindiwe was a different story. She had deliberately set out to make a total idiot of him. He vowed to himself that their friendship was over. This had not been the first occasion on which she had used her intellectual superiority to amuse herself at his expense. He was tired of being laughed at by a girl. And it didn’t help matters much that she was just as good or even better at so-called “boy things” than what he himself was.

 

He was very aware of Lindiwe’s footsteps on the gravel behind him, and had to give her points for her awareness of his mood. She was nothing if not tactful. He imagined that by now she was feeling pretty sorry for herself. On the pretence of tying a shoelace, Thando bent down and sneaked a glance at his erstwhile friend between his legs – not a very subtle move on his behalf, and fortunately he was unaware of the amusing spectacle he made.

 

As he had imagined, Lindiwe was indeed wearing a very sorrowful expression. And so she should be, he thought angrily. At least, he tried to convince himself that he was angry. But the sight of that mournful little face, so habitually covered in smiling dimples, still managed to cause him a jolt of pain. To make matters worse, he noticed a shadowy form slinking behind Lindiwe, its tail between its legs. Tolo. The dog waited for them every day outside their school, jumping hysterically from one to the other, licking their faces and demanding their attention. Today he had been so immersed in his own misery that he hadn’t even noticed the poor animal. Of course Tolo, so sensitive to their moods, had not given them his normal effusive greeting, and instead, chose to follow them at a distance. Thando was tempted to call the dog, but to do so would mean acknowledging Lindiwe’s presence. Tolo whined softly as he walked behind the children.

 

Still Thando strode on, ignoring the pathetic footsteps dragging along behind him.

 

Unconsciously, he slowed down his pace, making it easier for Lindiwe to catch up to him. Lindiwe’s own stride, however, slowed down to match his. Was she playing with him again? This time Thando pretended to have a coughing attack. Spinning around wildly, while seemingly choking on his own phlegm, Thando saw Lindiwe standing quite still, staring down at the ground. Did she not even care that he was apparently choking to death? Or was she so stricken by remorse that she could not bear to face him?

 

Uncertainly, Thando resumed the walk, walking even slower now than before, hoping that she would catch up to him. Slowly, she began to do so. Soon he could hear her deep, heartbroken sighs.

 

Now Thando began to feel guilty. After all, she had not meant to get him into trouble. And he hadn’t really been in serious trouble, had he?

 

Once again, a long, troubled sigh emitted from Lindiwe’s direction. Thando berated himself for having caused his pretty little friend so much pain.

 

Just as he was turning to face her and to offer to carry her bag as he did every afternoon, Thando caught sight of a flash of light.

 

He swirled around. What was that? He looked again in the same direction, and, sure enough, there it was again – the same flash of dancing light that had caused all the trouble in the classroom.

 

Thando stopped and glared at Lindiwe. “How dare you?” he shouted. “Do you really think I’m that stupid, that you can play the same trick on me twice in one day?”

 

Surprised, Lindiwe forgot all about the tragical face she had been wearing.

 

“What on earth are you on about?” she asked.

 

“That light of yours!” shouted Thando. “Why don’t you just take your mirror and get out of my life?”

 

“My what?” Lindiwe was genuinely surprised. She had no idea what Thando was talking about.

 

“Your mirror,” Thando repeated. “Do you think I’m about to be fooled again?” Thando pointed in the direction from which the light was coming. Lindiwe looked.

She looked behind her and all about her but could find no signs of the source of the light.

 

“Thando,” she said “I promise you I have not been playing with the mirror again. I will never do that again. But that light does not seem like a reflection at all. It really does look like a little being.”

 

Thando folded his arms and looked at her, wondering what ridiculous statement she would come up with next. And she did not disappoint him.

 

“Thando,” Lindiwe looked at him beseechingly. The look she usually reserved for when she really, really wanted something from him. “You know I don’t believe in fairies and such nonsense, but there is definitely something weird about that light. Just look at it. If it was a reflection from glass or something, we would never be able to see it so clearly from such a distance. Yet that light is so bright and clear, it seems to be magnified. And I don’t believe that any human hand is capable of such graceful movements. Look, Thando.”

 

Against his better judgement, Thando looked. She was right. The light moved with a grace and rhythm, which was almost audible. Watching it, Thando felt himself tapping his foot, as if to an unheard drumbeat. Looking at Lindiwe, he saw that she too was beginning to sway in time with the strange light. And he could see for himself that no matter where the light was coming from, it was not being caused by her. She had both her hands clasped in front of her, and he could see nothing on her person that was capable of making such a reflection.

 

Just as he was about to agree with her, though, Thando remembered the countless number of times he had been caught out by her. In his mind’s eye he heard her laughing at him. Not a spiteful laugh, but a laugh all the same. Then she would rub his head and call him gullible. Well, he had been gullible for the last time.

 

“That’s really interesting, Lindiwe,” he said in as mature a voice as he could muster.

“Tell you what, why don’t you investigate the little light and then you can come tell me all about it. I’m feeling a little hungry. I’ll just go home and have lunch while you run along and chase your fairies.”

 

“I did not say it was a fairy!” retorted Lindiwe. “I said it was interesting. And if you had half a brain in your head, you would find it interesting too. So go home and have your little lunch. I shall investigate on my own. And no, I shall not come tell you all about it. You probably wouldn’t understand, anyway!”

 

With that, Lindiwe turned around smartly and walked off in the direction of the trees and the mysterious little light. After a moment’s hesitation, Tolo followed her.

 

Thando was tempted to follow her too; sure that Lindiwe was off to a great adventure.

Yet his own stubbornness and sense of self-protection stopped him. Wistfully, he watched her, then slowly and hesitantly made his own way home.

 

Had Lindiwe not been so angry, she would have turned around and made one last appeal to her lifelong friend. Thando would gladly have shrugged off his reservations and followed her.

 

But this did not happen, and Thando soon found himself eating lunch alone, while Lindiwe was left to follow the strange light with only Tolo for company.

 

She walked on hurriedly, her schoolbag lying by the side of the road where she had left it. She would retrieve it later. Right now, her only concern was finding the source of the light before it disappeared again just as suddenly as it had appeared in the first place.

 

Lindiwe was excited. Entering the dark glade of trees, she saw that the light was no longer where she had first seen it. It danced on ahead of her, barely touching down as it flitted along, almost resembling a butterfly. Once, she stumbled and fell, and while she stopped to wipe the dust from her legs and hands, the light, too, stopped. It hovered for a while, waiting, it seemed, for her to recover and to continue following it.

 

Maybe it was her imagination, she thought. Surely it would require some kind of intelligence on the part of this phenomenon, and she wasn’t quite sure that she wanted to know the meaning of such an event.

 

Perhaps, she thought, she should have been nicer to Thando. It never took her long to win him over, but she had been so eager to follow the light, almost as if it was calling to her. Even now, she felt herself unable to draw away from the lure of the dancing light.

 

The vegetation around her grew thicker. Lindiwe was unconcerned, though; this was one of her and Thando’s favourite paths. Bordering on one of the greatest game reserves in Africa, their walks into the veld often had rewarding results as they watched nature quietly through the fence of the Reserve. Sometimes they heard lions roaring and, on one unforgettable occasion, the children had watched a whole

herd of elephant feeding. In fact, Lindiwe remembered, that had happened not far from where she stood right now.

 

Thando and Lindiwe had left home early that morning, just as the sun had begun to rise. As usual, they had forbidden Tolo to accompany them. His excited barking was always enough to frighten away any animal, and it was impossible to control him once he had caught the scent of other animals.

 

In the semi-dark, they’d made their way down this same path, hoping to encounter the lions they had been hearing the past few nights. They’d crept along the path stealthily, having first ensured that the wind was blowing away from them. Thando had been pretty sure that the roars and grunts had been coming from this direction, and, with any luck, they would encounter the pack as they finished feeding and settled down in the shade to sleep.

 

The pair had stood before the fence for at least a full minute before they realised that the huge shadows in front of them were moving, and were not, indeed, shadows at all, but a herd of elephant.

 

They had watched in silent awe as the elephants fed, often communicating with one another by means of touch. Their trunks reached out toward each other, entwining and caressing. Their bodies also constantly touched, in a loving, familiar way, their heads and bodies rubbing against each other. The elephants had been totally oblivious to the children’s presence, and they had fed comfortably, the older elephants from time to time reaching up to the higher branches with their trunks, bringing down the juicier leaves for the smaller elephants to feed on.

 

The early morning air had been fresh and clean, and the ground covered with light dew. A low-lying misty haze filled the air, adding a magical touch to the scene before them. The children stood motionlessly, watching the amazing spectacle before them, until a huge female suddenly lifted her trunk and trumpeted softly, not in alarm, but as if in some other signal which the two humans could not understand. Then swiftly, and amazingly silently, considering their size, the elephants had disappeared into the thicker trees.

 

Now, as Lindiwe stood alone at the same spot, she saw no sign of any animal, yet the little light still hovered, just on the other side of the fence.

 

She stood for a while, wondering if there was any way of getting to the other side. Besides the obvious way, of course, which was through the gates, about an hour’s walk from where she stood. That, though, was something a pedestrian was never permitted to do.

 

Lindiwe noticed that the path she stood on continued very faintly on the other side of the fence. This path must have been in existence before the reserve was ever fenced in. Then it occurred to her that poachers might even use this path. For a moment the light was forgotten as she considered this thought. She imagined herself and Thando receiving awards of bravery for catching a gang of dangerous poachers. As she was about to allow her imagination to take flight, she caught sight of another light slightly to the left and behind the first light. Or was that light the first light? She wasn’t sure, they were both exactly the same. Suddenly there were more lights, and yet more lights, hovering centimetres above the ground, dancing, whirling, twirling, diving, and flying.

 

Lindiwe’s eyes darted from one side to the other, trying to follow them all at once. But it was impossible. They were all over the place, moving in a magical symmetry.

 

She felt their unspoken call, “Join us,” they seemed to urge. And her body began to move in reply. Frustrated, she pressed against the fence, willing her body to be as light as theirs.

 

She considered climbing the fence, and once again wished that her friend was with her. Although she liked to believe that she was more agile than he, she knew that when it came to climbing and jumping, Thando was by far her superior. She also knew that there was no way she would be able to convince him to climb over the fence. They were both well aware of the severe penalty of trespassing, which was akin to poaching. And poaching was, after all, what most trespassers were doing.

 

Suddenly she noticed that the seemingly erratic dance was actually following a pattern. The lights would fly up, spread out, and then all dive down simultaneously to the ground. They would disappear for a second, then rise again, to repeat the whole sequence. As they disappeared again, her eyes searched the ground for them, and then she saw it!

 

A little village, a traditional African “kraal” consisting of miniature grass-roofed huts, forming a perfect circle. The entire village contained no fewer than thirty huts and could easily fit onto her single bed at home.

 

Lindiwe’s fingers ached to reach out and touch the little play village. As she watched, the lights, tired of their dance, or perhaps because they had at last succeeded in showing her their home, entered the little huts and all was still.

 

It occurred to her that she had discovered a fairy kingdom. Quite different to the pretty, flowering fairy gardens of Miss Flannagan’s Ireland, but beautiful in its own right, and unique to Africa!

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

Lindiwe remained standing where she was until her feet began to ache and she realised that it was getting late and that her mother would be worrying about her. Unwillingly, she turned and retraced her steps. All the way home she thought of ideas for getting Thando to help her over the wall, but rejected one plan after another.

 

First of all, he was most unlikely to believe her story of an African Fairy Kingdom. She herself still found it hard to believe the evidence of her own eyes. But somehow Thando had to be convinced. She would never be able to get over the fence without his assistance. But how on earth would she ever get him to join her? Perhaps she could tell him she had discovered something else beyond the fence. But what? She knew that Thando was immensely interested in animals, and, in fact, planned to become a game warden one day.

 

Should she tell him about some injured animal that they needed to rescue? But no, he would tell her that they should inform the game wardens. Maybe she could tell him that she had seen some poachers and that he should help her to set a trap for them. But no, that, too, he would merely report to the officials.

 

By the time she reached the spot where she had left her bag, Lindiwe had run out of ideas. Defeated, she made her way home.

 

As she had expected, her mother was waiting for her. “Where have you been, child? I was about to fetch your father from work. Thando has been home for hours and it’s getting dark. Don’t just stand there, answer me!”

 

“I was walking,” Lindiwe replied. “I’m sorry, I just lost track of time”. Although Lindiwe loved her mother dearly, she sometimes wished that she was more enlightened. Before she had even finished making her excuse, she knew she had made a mistake. Her mother could not understand what a young girl would find interesting outside in the veld.

 

“Walking!” her mother shrieked, her naturally shrill voice becoming even louder, shriller. “Walking, you say! And now you come in here and you’re probably going to say you’re hungry and expect me to give you the lunch which you so thoughtlessly missed, and here’s me worrying myself sick!” Her mother paused for breath, clutching her ample bosom. “Well, there’ll be no lunch for you, my girl. And no dinner, either, if you don’t help me to prepare it. I’m tired of you and your so-called intellect. It’s your father who’s put all these high flying notions into your head. What does a girl need to go wandering around for? Your place is here in the home. You’re thirteen years old already and you can’t even boil an egg. Well, that’s going to change. From now on, you’ll come straight home from school and you’ll do housework like all the other girls of your age. And don’t even think of back-chatting me,” she added as she saw Lindiwe’s mouth open in protest.

 

Lindiwe swallowed her retort and allowed her mother’s angry tirade to wash over her. She knew that she had been thoughtless and irresponsible and deserved any punishment her mother decided to mete out. Besides, she also knew that her mother was secretly proud of her daughter and would not allow her to become a mere homemaker like almost every other woman in the village, as had generations before them. She decided that assisting with dinner and offering to do the dishes afterwards, would more than likely appease the good lady.

 

And so it did. After dinner, Lindiwe curled up at her mother’s feet. She rubbed the swollen ankles tenderly. Her mother stretched out her legs and sighed contentedly. Lindiwe fetched a basin of iced water into which she poured a little oil and vinegar and, while her mother soaked her feet, Lindiwe washed the dishes.

 

Then Lindiwe made her mother a cup of tea and sat down quietly with her. After a while, her mother sighed.

 

“You are a good daughter, Lindiwe.” Her hands worked busily at her headscarf, unused to making speeches of this sort. “You must forgive me when I get a little over-protective, or when I don’t understand your behaviour. You are different to the other girls in the village. Perhaps it is because I’ve allowed you to have a boy as your best friend. Maybe you should spend more time with the other girls.”

 

“Mother, please,” protested Lindiwe. “It has nothing to do with Thando. If it weren’t for him, I’d have no friends at all! The other boys certainly don’t want to waste their time playing with me, and I have absolutely nothing in common with the girls!”

 

“Yes, dear, I suppose you’re right. At least Thando takes care of you when you go wandering around the way you do. Why wasn’t he with you today, though? Did the two of you have an argument’’

 

“Yes,” Lindiwe replied and told her mother the story of the mirror in the classroom. Her mother thoroughly enjoyed the tale, and laughed heartily. Seeing her mother so amused, Lindiwe refrained from telling her of the events on the way home and, on this happy note, kissed her mother goodnight and went to bed.

 

There she lay awake for a while, devising plans for involving Thando in her quest, but soon her tiredness overcame her and all thoughts were shelved for the following day.

 

The following morning, Thando awoke with a strange sorrowful feeling hanging over him. For a moment, he didn’t remember the cause, then, when he did, he fell back against his pillow. He had spent the better part of the previous afternoon at his bedroom window, watching the house next door. He had seen Lindiwe return home just before dark, and had felt sad and jealous that she could have enjoyed a long afternoon outdoors without him while he had spent the afternoon cooped up in his room.

 

He lay on his bed, gazing at the star-studded ceiling above him. He and Lindiwe had painted both their bedroom ceilings during the previous school holidays. What fun they’d had, he recalled now, as he lay quietly thinking of his friend.

 

Would she share her adventures with him? Or would she use his refusal to accompany her as an excuse to have a secret? She had done that before. He smiled to himself as he remembered.

 

Miss Flannagan had just arrived at their school, and Thando had been totally tongue-tied every time he’d had to speak to her. When she called upon him to answer a simple question, Thando had simply stuttered, “Ah…ah…ah…ah…” until eventually the pretty young teacher had taken pity on him and told him to sit down. All the way home, Lindiwe had teased him “Ah…ah…ah…ah…” she sang “Miss Flannagan, I love yooooooooooooooo”

 

At first Thando had tried to ignore this childish display, but after a while it had become irritating. “Shut up!” he’d shouted, pushing her. The unexpected shove knocked Lindiwe onto her knees. Furious, she had gone marching off in the opposite direction, leaving Thando to walk home alone, which he had happily done.

 

Later that day, she had returned, a smug, self-satisfied expression on her face. “I have a secret,” she’d said, and skipped into her own house, closing the door very firmly behind her. At first, Thando had not believed her, but early the following morning, he had seen her coming home from a walk.

 

“Where have you been?” he asked her. She had smiled mysteriously, and refused to reply. Thando had spent the day at home watching her house. Finally, his vigilance was rewarded. He saw Lindiwe creeping furtively out of the back door, looking behind her as if to check for a follower. Discreetly, Thando had followed her. Lindiwe had walked to the outskirts of the village, looking behind her at frequent intervals. Each time, Thando had ducked down out of her sight, and was sure he had not been spotted.

 

He’d followed Lindiwe for over an hour before he realised that they had been walking in circles, going nowhere at all.

 

“Lindiwe!” he’d yelled, furiously. “What are you playing at?”

 

Lindiwe had produced an exaggeratedly innocent smile. “Thando!” she’d exclaimed in mock surprise. “What a pleasant surprise. I was just out for a walk. Would you like to accompany me? Lovely day, isn’t it?” Then she’d collapsed into a fit of giggles. “You silly fool,” she hooted “Did you think I didn’t notice you? Now go on home like a good boy and let me get on with my business.””I won’t go home!” Thando had folded his arms and sulked.

 

Lindiwe leaned forward and tickled his chin “Would you like to know my little secret?” she asked tauntingly.

 

Thando nodded.

 

“Will you polish my school shoes for a month?” she asked.

 

“Do you really have a secret?”

 

“I do”

 

“I’ll do your shoes for a week.”

 

“Two weeks”

 

“Deal”

 

With that, Lindiwe had taken his hand and led him to a spot outside the fence of the game reserve. Behind some long grass on the other side of the fence, Thando had seen a deep hole in the ground. He saw Lindiwe sit down on a rock nearby and joined her. From experience, he had known that this might be a long wait. But fortunately, the sight of a cautious movement soon rewarded him. A mottled black, brown and white head emerged from the hole. The muzzle was raised and the air sniffed. Then the wild dog’s body emerged. The air was sniffed again and the dog gave a quick bark. To Thando’s surprise and delight, six playful puppies followed their mother out of the den and began to frolic in the clearing. Soon others came crawling out of other holes, and the children sat motionlessly as they watched this display of carefree abandon. Thando’s eyes scanned the nearby trees and he saw the watchful parents keeping guard over their young.

 

He knew that wild dogs travelled in packs and only settled in one place when the females were about to give birth. Here, at least three females seemed to have pups and he watched the rest of the pack slink off to hunt, leaving the females with a few others to guard their young. Presently, the pups began to tire and were herded by their mothers back to their dens. As quiet returned to the clearing, the children turned to each other in awe. “Thank you, Lindiwe,” Thando had whispered and the two friends quietly rose and walked wordlessly home.

 

Thando remembered these events as he climbed out of bed. Whatever Lindiwe had been doing the previous afternoon, she would soon tell him about it. Thus comforted, he dressed and went to the kitchen for breakfast.

 

“Good morning, Thando” his mother greeted cheerfully. Like Lindiwe’s mother, his own mother also took pride in caring for her home and family. Of a naturally cheerful disposition, she greeted him enthusiastically each morning, genuinely happy to see him. This greeting was repeated when his father entered a few minutes later.

 

After breakfast, Thando made his way next door. Familiarity allowed him to enter his neighbour’s house without knocking. As only children in both families, Thando and Lindiwe were treated as family by both sets of parents, a situation which they accepted as completely natural.

 

“Thando!” Mrs Sibeko, Lindiwe’s mother, exclaimed happily as she caught sight of him “Sit down. Have you eaten, or would you just like a glass of

Imprint

Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG

Publication Date: 07-27-2013
ISBN: 978-3-7309-3930-7

All Rights Reserved

Dedication:
TO ALL CHILDREN

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